Finally, a debate of true intellectual merit. Does Bob Dylan deserve the Nobel Prize of Literature, which he was awarded today? Do lyrics fit in the box that we’ve created to define something that truly is so broad and limitless?
Yes and yes.
When I first saw the headline proclaiming his victory, I raised my eyebrows a millimeter, thought “hey that’s kinda cool,” and carried on with my regular scheduled programming, figuring I’d wait until later to read up on the decision. Sure, I was a smidgen sad that there wasn’t a novel unknown to me that I’d be plopping into my Amazon cart, but that was okay, considering the 80+ unread books of my shelves.
During my lunch break I had some time to jump on the interwebs, and I was a little surprised to see that people are upset with Dylan’s win. Their points are interesting and possibly valid, on some level at least. Many discuss how a huge part of Dylan’s work surpasses the lyrics, lying in the actual melody, the harmonica playing, and his unique voice. I get that. But the words connect to this and as a package they all enhance each other. Stephen Metcalf wrote on Slate’s site that, “the distinctive thing about literature is that it involves reading silently to oneself. Silence and solitude are inextricably a part of reading, and reading is the exclusive vehicle for literature.” He raises an interesting point. But what about poetry reads? Or sitting down with your child and reading aloud something like Charlotte’s Web? If we listen to The Odyssey on audiobook is it no longer literature? I personally like to enjoy texts silently, through reading, but I don’t think it’s the only way to do something (unless I'm reading to my son or students, of course). The experience and community surpasses silence.
This word that Metcalf uses, “exclusive,” bothers me. By definition, it serves to limit. Since when was that a goal of true literature? Literature should invite, it should innovate, it should elicit emotion and thoughts. Literature in and of itself is evolving, as it always has. Look at what it looked like when Chaucer wrote, or Shakespeare, or Dickens. We have changed as people, as has the way in which we consume literature.
Anyone want to put $5 on Kanye trying to nominate himself next year?